Florida shrugged off another year of not being picked to win the SEC East because it’s used to it. The Gators haven’t been picked the past two years, either, but once the season ended, there they were in their second home of the Georgia Dome.
“And how much truly does motivation get you through the hard times? I’m not sure, right?” coach Jim McElwain said at SEC media days. “It’s the preparation and the attention to detail that you’ve put into it, going into whatever event it is, that’s going to help you be successful. So, I don’t know. Will somebody at least say we exist? That would be nice, I guess, right?”
Florida will exist, but it will have a substantially tougher time trying to replicate the last two finishes. The offense is again under construction, and the defense, after being the SEC’s best behind Alabama a year ago, lost eight starters.
As it’s been since Tim Tebow left, there’s a question at quarterback. Feleipe Franks emerged as the favorite in the spring, but when the SEC changed its transfer rules, allowing Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire to come to Gainesville and play right away, that gave the Gators an experienced option.
McElwain was hired to get Florida out of its offensive doldrums but it’s been a slow process. Not having a steady quarterback has limited what the Gators hope to do, although their defense was still strong enough to help win 19 games in two seasons.
With the defense having lost so much, the offense won’t have as big of a safety net. McElwain has to hope whoever wins the QB job will stay in the slot all season and take advantage of some good pieces.
Jordan Scarlett rushed for 907 yards last year, and Antonio Callaway is an explosive receiver. The offensive line has four starters coming back. The seeds for returning to the air-it-out style Florida is used to seeing have been sown, but they need the guy under center to cultivate the crop.
The Gators suffered a huge loss when safety Marcell Harris tore his Achilles before camp, nixing him for the season. After losing Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson to the NFL, Florida is shuffling the secondary. The defensive tackles need to be addressed as well, heaping more on the plate of defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who was promoted into Geoff Collins’ spot.
Many figured Florida will still win the East, but the season could go south in a hurry if they don’t have immediate answers in Game 1. The Gators take on Michigan at Jerry World, then host Tennessee two weeks later. After that is a trip to Kentucky, and while the Gators haven’t lost to the Wildcats since 1986, that streak has to end sometime.
Then there are three consecutive road games after the bye week – Georgia in Jacksonville, Missouri and South Carolina.
Florida has the talent to win the East and received several votes to do so, although not enough to top Georgia in the preseason poll. Will that slight […]